If you’re anything like me, you have gone through the despair of writing a ‘to do’ list in the morning, finishing the day with more things on it than when you started and very little ‘ticked off’; all day, your head a maelstrom of things that you ‘must do’ or ‘have to remember’. All this time I have been looking for a Time Management process that would work for me, I didn’t realise that what I needed was a complete rethink.

Last month, in my post about getting your E-Mail Inbox to Zero, I mentioned GTD. In this post, I’d like to give you an outline of what it is, how it works, and the difference it can make.

Getting Things Done, is a book I came across while searching for a good Todo App for my iPad. The full title, GTD – How to Achieve Stress Free Productivity, intrigued me as I had never really made the connection between Time Management and Stress – although it is clear to me now, I have stressed about it in the past.

The book breaks the system down into its key elements, and gives a clear understanding of how to implement, manage and improve the system for yourself. What follows is a very simplified version of the system; if you want to find out more, I recommend the book whole-heartedly. The five phases of the process are as follows:

Collection

This is the stage where you collect everything you have and put it in some kind of inbox. This can be clearing the piles of paper on your desk or in your cupboards, clearing out your car, going through your note book. It also includes collecting all of the thoughts and ideas you have in your head. The key to this stage, when implementing GTD, is that you go through everything. When I did this, I ‘collected’ every piece of paper from my desk, intrays, drawers, boxes, and put them all in a big pile on my desk ready for the next stage. My advice, if you undertake this, is to do this in stages, as it can take a fair amount of time to go through all of this.

Processing

This is the most cathartic part of the whole system. Pick up the first piece of paper and ask yourself, “is this actionable?”. If not you will either trash it, save it (in a someday file), or file it (in a reference system). Then pick up the second piece etc. You will find that this part of the process removes a huge percentage of the pile. If it is actionable, and can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now!. What you are left with either goes into a Projects file (if it is part of a larger piece of work), or in your Next Action list (in whichever reminder/task management system you use).

Organising

This step in the process is only really done once, as most of it involves setting up, what GTD calls, buckets. These are the files, or software systems, you use to hold your list of projects, next actions, things you will do eventually, things you will delegate etc. Once they are set up, you just put things in them as part of the processing stage.

Doing

Despite the fact that a great number of things will have been done as part of the Processing, this stage is where you work through your Next Action list. There is a lot in the book about how to prioritise these things. I tend to work out how important things are, and do the most important, most urgent, things first.

Reviewing

Probably the most important aspect of the system is the regular reviewing which gets done. I have a daily review which is where I quickly collect to my various inboxes (physical, email, notebook, Evernote etc.), process them (doing the 2 minutes tasks), then review my Next Actions and priorities for the day. I then know that I am doing the most important things. I also have a weekly review which allows me to review the whole system to make sure that nothing is being missed (I will discuss these reviews in more detail in a future blog post).

GTD is a system that is not only aimed at achieving significantly improved productivity, it is aimed at allowing you to do so in a way which dramatically reduces stress. Once you have your system in place, and have made sure you have inboxes set up to collect anything at any time, you don’t need to worry about anything any more; once it is in your system you know it will get done.

If you have any questions or have anything to add, please comment. If you would like any help with setting up, or using GTD, then contact us.